Before we get too excited about a 22 point win over a top 5 team; I think it's important to note that the Aggies were missing two starters. Nevertheless, they still had the talent to make this a difficult game, but our guys came to play and got a much needed, relatively easy win that should look very nice on the resume in March.
The day started with news of Riley Norris' scheduled hip surgery, taking him out for the rest of the year. The injury likely explains why Riley has appeared a bit slow and over-matched in recent games. I hate it for Riley, missing most of his senior season, but perhaps this will help CAJ figure out a sensible playing rotation. My understanding is Riley will be eligible for a medical redshirt, and it would be great to have him back for one more year.
We stuck with the same starting lineup and overall they played very well together. I would still rather have Braxton Key come in off the bench until he gets back up to speed. I would prefer to start both bigs or maybe even Herb over Key for now. While Braxton still only scored 2 points, I thought this was his best game since returning. He didn't let his offensive struggles effect other parts of his game. He contributed with some nice stops defensively and a few huge rebounds. He ended up with 6 boards. One of the key plays came after an offensive rebound that Braxton saved from going out of bounds, all 5 guys touched the ball and it ended with alley-oop to Donta which brought down the house.
Sexton scored 9 points very quickly in the first half and it looked like he was going to carry the team himself. I think this early explosion opened up a lot of opportunities for our other guys who took advantage. Collin also played very smart. I don't think he gets enough credit for his court vision, and anticipating his double-teams and setting up guys to get good looks.
We led by as many as 12 in the first half, but didn't take full advantage of the Aggies' cold shooting. They went 0 for 10 from 3 point range in the first half, but we got stupid with the substitutions again and had a scoring drought to the end half, going into the locker room with only a 7 point lead. I don't understand why we decided to randomly throw Alex Reece and Galin Smith into the game, along with AJ. That being said, Galin played well in his 7 minutes, coming up with a couple of blocks and a big rebound, along with a few other hustle plays that won't make the box score.
Back to the rotation again, I thought it was much better in the second half. It's no coincidence that we built the lead to 15+ primarily with the starters playing together. We also didn't use Alex and Galin didn't come in until later when Donta had some contact issues. Collin Sexton played 29 minutes and AJ played 12. That split needs to be more like 35/5, and they shouldn't be on the court at the same time.
Collin was the victim of a flagrant 1 foul, and that just seemed to re-focus the team. We stretched the lead back out to 13 and the outcome was never in doubt again. The Aggies seemed to be frustrated and started taking some cheap shots, but Sexton wouldn't let the guys lose focus. Even though Collin was only 1 for 6 from 3 point range, I like that he's pulling up from out there a few times, as it opens up his dribble drive game, and his dribble drive game opens up so much for the rest of the offense.
They tried to zone us, as we've struggled with that in recent games, but when JP is feeling it, that's not going to be a wise decision for our opponents. It took us a few possessions to figure out how to create for him, but once we did, he did not disappoint. We can play with anybody in the country when JP is shooting well and taking care of the basketball. He ended up with 18 points and only 2 turnovers.
In general, we took better care of the basketball. We ended up with 12 turnovers, but some of that was Collin trying to show out a little bit after we already had a huge lead.
Donta Hall had another great game, running the floor and finding the open space close to the basket. He ended up with 17 points and 6 rebounds. Dazon quietly had a stat-line worthy of MVP consideration, with 16 points and 6 rebounds. He had a few steals and did a good job of getting us into transition.
I was shocked by how awesome the crowd was! Despite the team's struggles in recent games, the students not being back on campus yet, it being the day before New Year's Eve, and a huge chunk of our fan base already in New Orleans for the football game tomorrow, there were 13,000+ in attendance. The fans were into the game and loud throughout, and if the team can play like this consistently, Coleman Coliseum is going to be a very difficult venue for SEC teams to come in and get a win.
Up next, speaking of difficult venues, we travel to Nashville to take on Vandy in a place where we've won only once in the last 30 years. I think we are the better team, but no doubt we'll get some bad calls and they'll shoot about a thousand 3s. Tipoff is set for 6pm Tuesday night on the SEC Network. Happy New Year, and Roll Tide!